The events and meetings industry in the U.K. and Europe is entering "completely uncharted" waters in light of the surprising vote last week of the United Kingdom to exit the European Union.
PCMA's Education and Events team addressed the impact that the vote will have on meetings and events with a panel aired online today during its EduCon conference in St. Louis.
Ben Hainsworth, executive director of K.I.T. Group GmbH, said the "leave" vote will have a "huge impact" on life in the U.K., well beyond the world of events and meetings. He called the vote "shocking" and said the industry is entering "completely uncharted waters."
The panel also included Simon Hughes, managing partner with MCHA Ltd. and vice chair of the Business Visits and Events Partnership U.K., Oscar Cerezales, chief operating officer with APAC-MCI Group, and moderator Michelle Crowley, senior director of global development and partnerships with PCMA.
Adding to the confusion of what the "leave" vote means is when the U.K.'s exit from the European Union will actually take place—if it indeed does. If the "exit" moves quickly, "it could avoid volatility," Crowley said, such as the prospect of Scotland electing to leave the U.K. and stay with the E.U.
Other factors in the mix are the fall of the British pound, which could make Great Britain a more attractive destination for in-bound meetings. On the other hand, the "leave" vote upends the easy movement of people between the E.U. and Great Britain.
Hainsworth noted that some of the "exit" upheavals—including issues of sales tax and the movement of people, goods and services—will affect other E.U. countries but not visitors from the U.S. Even so, he said, "Within Europe, I can't see major changes. European agencies tend to operate above politics."
Cerezales pointed out that while headlines are being dominated by what he called "fast moving" trends, the giant multinational associations will take a longer view.
Hughes noted that a huge number of ex-pats now living in the U.K. are employed by the hospitality industry. Disenfranchising these people will have an impact on meetings and events, he noted.
Crowley closed the session by noting that the industry needs to let people know the meetings and event business continues to operate. "Whatever your politics," she said, "the more borders we build, the harder it will be to bring people together," which is the soul of the meetings and event business, she said.